''Aanayoottu'' Ceremony, Thrissur, Kerala - offering 'Grand Feast' to pachyderms!!

Aanayoottu at Vadakkumnathan Temple  thenewsminute.com

No other animals play a greater role in the culture of Kerala than the elephants which are considered sacred by the Hindus. The trained elephants form an integral part of the age- old  temple tradition of Kerala. Though they are also associated with certain Hindu  temples of the adjacent state of Tamil Nadu, their presence in festivities  is on a low key there,  and there are no temple events exclusively linked to elephants.  In Kerala, in majority of temples, the procession deities are taken out on the  caparisoned elephants. In the Aarattu function, the procession deity is taken ceremoniously to the near-by river for a bath and then taken bath to the temple often accopanied by music and beating of drums. So, participation of elephants in traditional temple festivals in Kerala  is essential and no doubt, their majestic presence  enhances the grandeur of such events. 
The Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur comes alive on two occasions - during Thrissur pooram day and  Aanayoottu or 'grand feast' for  elephants. Actually, Aanayoottu at this Shiva  temple is a an interesting ritualistic  ceremony (locally known as Aanayoottu)  in which the elephants are treated to sumptuous healthy food. It is for them to eat to their heart's content.  The feeding ritual takes place inside the temple premises. Perhaps you may be wondering why elephants are given  a grand feast that might need tons of vegetables, etc. It is a way of expressing our gratitude to these giant animals that are helpful to the humans at the temples and also in the lumber industries. This ceremonial feeding has close links with  Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, who purports to remove obstacles ('Vinayaga' meaning Venai theerpavan)  in one's life.  God Ganesha will be happy and blesses those who will treat elephants with reverence and feeding them  well with healthy and delicious food.   

The Aanayoottu ceremony is based on the principles of Ayurveda which considers the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam as a month of rejuvenation for elephants. So, the  Ayurvedic tradition of rejuvenation is extended towards elephants as well. The festival of Aanayoottu  is normally held on the first day of the month of Karkkidakam (the Malayalam calendar), which coincides with the month of July. This year it will be held on the 19th of July. On the festival day, the elephants are brought to  the premises of the Vadakkumnathan Temple for the special feast. This temple has hosted this feast for the big animals in the last few years. On the day of  Aanayoottu, every year,  Gaja pooja is conducted by priests to propitiate God Ganapathy. The elephants will be bathed, garladed and treated to aarti.  Once the puja is over, the pachyderms are taken into the temple  compound  where they are lined-up in a single row and  thousands of people will be feeding them.  

The feeding session begins with an offering by the chief priest of the temple.  Normally, calf. Sugarcane, ghee rice, coconut, jaggery and Ayurvedic medicines  form the major ingredients of the special feed for the elephants. It is said that "Each elephant was given around 30 kg of feed''. Feeding the elephants is a great holy act and it is a way of expressing our gratitude to these animals that are actively involved in various festivals. Now, they deserve rest, relaxzation  and delicious healthy food for rejuvination.  The number of elephants  to be participated was reduced following directives given by the district administration regarding parading of elephants for temple festivals. Fifty elephants had participated in the festival held in 2003.0 It has come down  to 30 in the recentpast. 

Aanayoottu (feeding of elephants) ritual is also held at the Chilavanoor Ponnethkavu Bhagavathy temple and also at the  Njangattiri Bhagavathi Temple at Pattambi in the Palakkad district. Aanayoottu  is a unique ceremony native to Kerala that gives importance to the physical and mental health of elephants that play an active role in the Hindu festivals. The temple festivals of Kerala assume charm and fascination with the active participation of traineed elephants.